Skip to comments.In the Footsteps of Heyerdahl
Posted on 08/16/2002 1:32:09 PM PDT by Richard Poe
WHEN THOR HEYERDAHL died in April, the mass media fell oddly mute. Some readers told me that they learned of the great Norwegian explorers death only a week later, by reading my eulogy on the Internet.
Such apathy seems hard to fathom. Every schoolboy once read Kon-Tiki and dreamed of conquering the waves as Heyerdahl had done. Perhaps, imbued with the modern philosophy of "safety first," todays journalists no longer wish to encourage such dreams.
Media apathy has likewise greeted Dominique Goerlitz Heyerdahls apprentice and heir apparent.
On July 20, this 35-year-old German schoolteacher landed in Alexandria, Egypt, after sailing 1,164 nautical miles in two and a half months, on an ancient Egyptian-style reed boat.
The global media responded with deafening silence. Until Goerlitz himself finally answered my e-mails last week, I could only guess whether he had landed alive or been swallowed by a whale.
Goerlitz seems unfazed by the worlds indifference. He seeks knowledge and adventure, not praise.
As a boy, Goerlitz was enthralled by Kon-Tiki Heyerdahls account of his 4,300-mile voyage on a balsa-log raft in 1947.
Later, as a grade-school biology teacher, Goerlitz wondered how certain Old-World plants such as long-stem cotton had managed to find their way to America before Columbus.
One clue seemed to lie in the mysterious step pyramids scattered across the Mediterranean, from Egypt to Sardinia and even as far west as the Canary Islands in the Atlantic.
As described in my book Black Spark, White Fire, Greek archaeologist Theodore Spyropoulos discovered one such monument in 1971, near the Greek city of Thebes. The so-called Pyramid of Amphion is an immense, terraced, pyramid-like structure, honey-combed with shafts, tunnels and stairways. Heavily weathered and overgrown with trees and bushes, it lay undetected for centuries, mistaken for an ordinary hill.
Goerlitz agreed with Heyerdahl that a race of pyramid builders perhaps pre-dynastic Egyptians might have sailed the Mediterranean and even reached America.
But how did they cross such distances? Heyerdahl suggested one method. In 1970, he crossed the Atlantic in 57 days, in the Ra II a 45-foot papyrus boat of ancient Egyptian design.
Yet many scientists scoffed. Heyerdahl had just gotten lucky, they said. He had drifted all the way on a friendly current. But the Ra II could not sail against a contrary wind.
In the Mediterranean, strong winds blow constantly, in ever-shifting directions. The pyramid-builders would have needed to buck these winds, in order to reach places like Greece and Sardinia. How did they do it?
Goerlitz studied 5,000-year-old Nubian rock paintings of papyrus boats. He concluded that the so-called "oars" in these paintings were not oars at all. "Instead I argue these were keels, which are a must in a sail boat to keep it balanced in the water," Goerlitz explains.
The keels proved to be a critical improvement over Heyerdahls design. Goerlitz made contact with Heyerdahl in 1995. The old man gave him coaching and encouragement. But, sadly, Heyerdahl died before Goerlitzs final triumph.
After many experiments and false starts, Goerlitz launched the Abora II from Alexandria, Egypt in May. Aymara Indians in Bolivia experts at reed-boat construction had built the vessel, which was 38 feet long, 11 feet wide, and six tons in weight. "Abora" was a Canary Island sun god whose emblem, according to Goerlitz, appears on step pyramids throughout the Mediterranean.
Originally, Goerlitz planned stops in Beirut, Turkey and Rhodes before returning to Alexandria. Bureaucratic and other delays forced him to shorten the voyage. From Beirut, he sailed to Cyprus, then back to Alexandria.
Like the prehistoric mariners, Goerlitz and his crew faced many perils, including 34-knot winds. At one point, the yard broke.
"This situation was really exciting, but not totally dangerous for the crew," Goerlitz told me by e-mail. "The only danger was the modern navigation during the night. Quite often, big merchant ships came very close. This was really dangerous, because we were almost invisible on our papyrus-like raft."
Goerlitz pronounces his experiment a success. "In front of the African coast, we tacked 80 nautical miles against the wind, from Port Said to el Burrullus," Goerlitz boasts. At times, the Abora II crossed the wind at up to 85-degree angles proving beyond doubt that a prehistoric reed boat could navigate the Mediterranean.
"Who will dream for us now?" asked Norwegian singer-poet and broadcaster Erik Bye, following the death of his friend Heyerdahl.
Each of us must wrestle privately with that question. A happy few, like Dominique Goerlitz, have already found their answer.
Richard Poe is a New York Times bestselling author and cyberjournalist. His latest book is The Seven Myths of Gun Control.
Chuck Yeager flew his last military flight this week. He's retired now, sort of.
I must have some sort of psychic power. I posted pictures of these Greek pyramids on FreeRepublic here two weeks ago. Check them out.
What your book should have asked is why was it the Greeks and not the Egyptians that created the modern human way of thinking? If they did have an Egyptian origin, how did they overcome the burden of that stunted dead-end civilization?
There is evidence that before the arrival of Indo-European Greek speakers the aborigines of what would become Greece might have come not from Egypt but from Libya and any similarity might be due to the fact that the original Egyptians also may have been cattle herders from around Libya. I have read that may be why the ancient Canary Islanders also had what seems somewhat like Egyptian traditions (mummies, step pyramids).
That is probably a more accurate explanation than the Egyptians being colonizers, something that there is no evidence of them ever doing.
I read your book Richard and it was poor scholarship.
That is probably a more accurate explanation than the Egyptians being colonizers, something that there is no evidence of them ever doing. >>
Did you really read my book? Your post suggests otherwise.
You appear to have no familiarity with my arguments or even with my fundamental worldview (which is both Europhilic and Hellenophilic). When you lecture me on the superiority of classical Greek culture over Egyptian, you are beating a straw man -- something I think you would realize, had you actually read Black Spark.
Instead of attacking my book, you appear to be attacking some mirage of extreme and semiliterate "Afrocentrism," perhaps gleaned from reading a few of the more pig-headed scholarly sound bites quoted in mass-media discussions of Martin Bernal's Black Athena.
You state that there is "no evidence" of the Egyptians being colonizers. That statement alone would get you an "F" in Egyptology 101.
Had you actually read Black Spark, White Fire, you might still disagree with me, but you would at least be sufficiently well-informed to know that:
1. The Egyptians conquered and colonized virtually all of their neighbors, most extensively during the New Kingdom or "Empire" period, and had a well-developed system of imperial administration - a fact which no Egyptologist denies,
2. Certain pharaohs claimed suzerainty -- in writing -- over islands in the Aegean Sea. Conventional scholars dismiss these claims as mere boasts, but, unlike you, they are at least aware that the claims were made. They interpret the evidence their own way, but they do not deny the existence of such evidence, as you do.
If I had to bet, I'd say you never read my book. At most, you may have glanced at some of the promo copy on Amazon.com.
The fact that Egypt had trading relations with people in Europe and beyond is not in doubt. It is also a fact that Egyptian "colonies" were those that were directly next to Egypt proper and easily reached by land. What Egyptian population transfers occurred into Europe to be properly called a colony in the tradition of Greek colonies in let us say Magna Grecia? Where are the Egyptian versions of Naucratis in Europe?
Dear Mr. Destro:
I never claimed that there were massive population transfers from Egypt to Greece -- at least not during the historical period. You would know that, if you had read my book.
Then again, if Naukratis is your idea of a "population transfer," perhaps I had better ask for further clarification of just what you mean by this phrase. Naukratis was a trading colony, a small patch of land granted to Greek residents by the philhellenic Pharaoh Ahmose II.
I don't know what its population was, but surely there were a lot more British living in the Raj than Greeks living in Naukratis.
As for your challenge to name specific Egyptian colonies that may have existed in Bronze Age Greece -- well, that was the whole point of my book. Didn't you say you read it?
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We had to read Kon Tiki in High School and I still remember it vividly. Does anyone know if schools still require it? Probably not. I think it would make a good birthday present for my 12 year old grandson.
Loved reading Kon Tiki as an adolescent, along with a couple Cousteau autobiographies that were out in those days. What a romantic thing an *Explorers Club* is.
If I remember right, Heyerdahl was something of a luddite.
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